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What will digital technologies do to education?

I recently responded to an inquiry with the following observations:

There are 7 major changes that are actually underway right now that will upend traditional education:

  1. Unbundling:  Increasingly, certification of a skill or mastery will happen at the level of individual courses.  That means it matters whether you mastered the course, but not necessarily whether it came as part of a degree package.  The effect on universities will be the same as the effect of selling songs by the song (rather than the album) was in the music business.  It will completely change the business model.
  2. Accessibility:  The availability of high-quality, on-line courses that thousands of students can take (see the recent New York Times article on Massive Open Online Courses) means that many students can get the credential they need from the professor they want, regardless of the university they are affiliated with and regardless of where the student physically is.  This will create greater power and draw for popular professors, leave the unpopular ones (or the ones teaching less popular subjects) behind and give far greater connection to students who would otherwise be unable to connect due to lack of access.
  3. Upend traditional teaching:  Increasingly, students are learning content on-line and then coming to a physical class to work with a teacher on application.  This is already happening in many elementary schools with the advent of the Khan academy video series.
  4. Upend traditional grading:  Conventionally, you taught a subject and then graded a student on how well they retained it.  With digital technologies, a student can self-test and review the material as many times as they need to in order to guarantee mastery.
  5. Change a professor’s job:  Professors will increasingly be called upon to master new distribution methods and models. 
  6. Change the economics of schools’ ‘brand’:  Schools will find themselves under pressure to put their brands on an increasingly broad array of content; sometimes risking the elusive exclusivity that the top brands can command.
  7. More specialization:  There will be a temptation for schools without a broad and well known brand to specialize in becoming known for particular topics, which will fragment the target market

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